Needy patients get fewest drug samples

Lately, several big university hospitals have set up no-freebie programs to limit pharma's influence over doctors' prescribing habits. Inevitably, critics send up cries about the poor people who won't get drug samples under the new rules. Some hospitals have anticipated that criticism by setting up centralized sample-collection systems.

Well, surprise, surprise--the poor aren't the ones getting those samples anyway. Wealthy, insured patients are more likely than needy patients to get free drugs. About $16.4 billion in samples were handed out in 2004, nearly always the newest and most expensive meds. About 12 percent of Americans have received at least one free sample. About 13 percent of those with insurance got samples, while about 10 percent of uninsured patients got one. Of all sample recipients, 72 percent had income above 200 percent of the poverty level. Only 28 percent had incomes below the poverty line.

- read the Boston Globe report

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